On Saturday (February 7), residents of the Bolivian capital of La Paz participated in the city's third annual "Day of the Hug." The event is organized by the La Paz Cultural Affairs' Happiness Program and is part of a citywide campaign to boost general happiness.
The event took place in the city's commercial district and according to Caracol radio, the event attracted hundreds of participants.
The happiness campaign is in part an acknowledgement of the challenges faced by the city's roughly one million residents. Among other issues, La Paz residents have to deal with notorious traffic problems, daily street protests and the historical tension between indigenous Bolivians and those of European descent.
Participants in the "Day of the Hug" said they walked away from the event feeling better.
"Of course receiving so many hugs gives you a special feeling," event participant Sonia Mamani told Reuters.
Among the most enduring symbols of the Bolivian capital are street zebras, who are city residents dressed up in outfits looking like a zebra to help direct traffic. The program has invited troubled youth to restart their lives by working as street zebras.
The zebras are a regular attraction in the city that in December was named a New7Wonders city along with Havana, Durban and Beirut, among others.
"I think that the people of La Paz are known for being introverted, but the mayor's office and the street zebras have organised this event in which we can go out and express our feelings through a hug. It's the most amazing thing to hug a person you care about, and something novel to hug someone you don't feel for or don't even know," Day of the Hug participant Waldo Balda said.
The goal of the day was to complete 30,000 hugs.
"Resilience in maintaining a positive attitude in the face of any challenge is among man's most positive innate abilities. We know it's not easy living in a city like La Paz. We know that many realities of the city will not change, but what you can change is what's going on in the inside," La Paz Cultural Director Sergio Caballero told Reuters.
As it turns out, Bolivians do have much reason to be hugging of late. Over the last decade, the country's economy has grown by an average of five percent per year. And construction in La Paz itself has has been increasing nine percent annually.
To complete the "Day of the Hug" celebration, the famous Bolivian pop rock band Octavia gave a performance. — Reuters